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Matt Harnacke

Who is Matt Harnacke?

Matt Harnacke’s career started on the runway for the big, international fashion brand Emporio Armani at the age of 17. Today, Matt is in addition to being a successful model, also one of the most prominent riding influencers in the world, a professional rider and part of the MD-Brand Ambassador Team. With hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and youtube, Matt has become a great role model for horse people all over the world. 

But how did Matt’s modeling career really begin? Why did he move from Australia? What is important to think about when being a huge equestrian influencer? And how does he deal with receiving hate and being misunderstood on the internet? We recently had a chat with Matt and the opportunity to ask him all these questions. Keep reading to get to know Matt!


ABOUT MATT

  • Name: Matt Harnacke
  • Age: 25 years old
  • Lives in: The Netherlands
  • Occupation: Rider, model and leading equestrian influencer
  • Instagram: matt_harnacke

The riding career

You started riding at a young age, how did you get in contact with a horse for the first time? 
“I think I was always someone who was quite into animals to begin with. My parents had family friends that owned a riding hall, so me and my brother grew up going to their place. That is also the place where I had my first riding lesson. By that time I was 8 years old, and it was at that age I kind of realized that horses are something I’m really passionate about – even though it also was this high level of fear for me because I was quite scared when I was young. But I was so interested and it appealed to me so much that I continued to ask my parents for more lessons and me and my brother started having weekly lessons shortly after. 

My brother and I took riding lessons together for about two years actually, before he realized that it wasn’t his thing and stopped. So he grew out of it, and my interest accelerated really.”

Today you are a dressage rider and you have participated in a lot of dressage competitions during your career. Why did dressage catch your interest? 
“I’ve always liked showjumping, but the horses I’ve owned have never really been good at it. They’ve never had a natural talent for jumping, so it was kind of by default I found myself doing dressage. I definitely have an interest in showjumping, but my heart is more into dressage.”

Looking at your videos, you seem to have such a genuine relationship with your horses. How do you build these relationships? What do you think is important to think about?
“Firstly, I think it’s because I don’t have many and it’s much easier to have closer relationships with your horses if you don’t have a lot of them. 

And I don’t have anyone behind me that’s pushing me to do anything I don’t want to do. I don’t have to do well for any clients and I don’t have to feel the responsibility of somebody else and their goals. My riding is very oriented around what I feel like doing and I’ve built my own kind of regime and structure around that. 

I always allow a lot of time to do really fun and different kinds of things. Of course I train a lot in the arena, but I’m always out and about doing other things like trail rides – and I think that’s really something that helps in terms of getting to know a horse. My horses are an extension of my family, and it’s always been something that’s very special to me that I’ve been able to stay in control of.“

How many horses do you own today?
“I have four of my own right now 

  • Sureno: PRE Stallion
  • Chase: Warmblood Gelding
  • Emporio: PRE Stallion
  • Bear: American Miniature Horse

Maybe I shouldn’t put this out in the universe, but I am thinking about maybe getting one more.  I’ve seen some really beautiful Frisians lately that were presented to me and it would be amazing to have one of my own. I’ve always been interested in breeding them, because they barely have Friesian horses in Australia so they really fascinated me when I moved to the Netherlands. But I also saw this stunning KWPN that I really liked, and then obviously I love PREs haha – so I don’t know yet. I don’t want to force anything but if a really nice horse finds its way to me, I’ll absolutely consider it.”

Being a professional model

Besides riding, you also work as a model. Is it true that you got discovered by scouts during a horseshow? Can you tell us a little bit more about that day?
“Yes, that’s correct! Which is the most random place that could have happened, haha. When I was seventeen I was teaching at a riding school and one day I had a day off to go to a horse show and watch some friends that were jumping.

So I was watching my friend’s ride and then afterwards we went to one of these little pop-up restaurants to get something to eat and then suddenly this woman came up to us. I thought that she came to talk to one of my friends, so I was very surprised when she looked at me and said “I actually came to talk to you” and then she presented herself, the modeling agency she worked for and asked for a meeting with me to sign me as one of their models. And that’s basically how it started.”

How did it feel for you to get that question? Was it a matter of course for you to say yes?
“Actually, I had already been asked by another agency when I was sixteen and said no. I’ve had a lot of issues with the way I’ve looked and I would always prefer staying in the background if I could. I grew up as a really thin kid and I guess I found it hard to not be the “conventional type”.  

“I was the person, if there was a group photo that had to be taken, I would go away. It was basically the one thing I didn’t want to do.”

“So it was not an obvious decision to accept her offer, but after consultation with my parents, I decided to give modelling a go.“

What happened after that? How long did it take from signing the papers until you started doing  all these extraordinary shows and shootings? 
“I did my first job one week later. It was for a magazine called Dolly which is kind of like a “Teen Vogue” thing in Australia – and I was horrified, but I did it. And I realized that even though it was so scary in the beginning, it got easier and easier. Nobody can teach you how to feel comfortable in front of the camera, it takes time. Once you have a certain amount of hours of shooting behind you, you start to get better.

At first, I did a lot of jobs in Australia and after 6 months I went to do my first show circle in Europe. When I got back, I had done some really really big shows in London, Paris and Milan with brands like Dolce Gabbana, Emporio Armani and Georgio Armani. And once I had that in my resume, it all went very quick! I was able to book big campaigns, do more show circles and work more internationally. United States, United Kingdom, Asia.. I worked all over the world and started living out of my suitcase.”

What have you learned from modeling?
“I’ve learned that there’s a place for everybody. I think that a lot of people think of modelling as something that would have a negative impact on your self-confidence and kind of tear you down. But for me, it’s been the other way around. 

I was really able to gain a new self acceptance for the way I looked. In the modelling world when you do shoots and campaigns – they always tend to pick the “worst” photo of you. Because they are looking at the clothing, lightning and all these other things that you don’t think of. When I realized that, well I’ll put it this way: I started to not give a shit anymore. I accepted the fact that I’m going to do all these jobs, they are gonna take photos of me in the worst possible angles and then they are gonna post the worst one and it’s gonna be on billboards, on busses and that’s ok with me. I’m just here to do my job, and what I look like is very subjective and not important.“

Being a big Social Media Profile

Today you have around 700 000 followers on Instagram and almost 400 000 subscribers on Youtube. Why do you think your social media grew so big? 
“I think my story is a bit different, and I also think I’ve been able to share that in a way that’s been interesting. I’m lucky to have had opportunities in my life that have allowed me to share all different parts of the equestrian world, the modelling world and all that kind of stuff.

I also think it’s important to consider the content as entertainment. I always look at the videos I make before posting them, and sometimes when I look at them I realize that they are boring and not entertaining me – and then I won’t publish them. “

What’s the best thing about your job?
“I get to live such a blessed life. Firstly, I’m my own boss and I really love that. But apart from that, all the experiences and opportunities I get to have, the people I get to meet, the networking I get to do and how I sometimes find myself in the craziest places.” 

Everyday is different and so exciting, that’s something I really enjoy.

Being a big profile on social media can be difficult and hard.  Do you ever feel misunderstood? Have you noticed that people have preconceived notions about you?
“I think that a lot of people tend to think that I am arrogant before they meet me. And I think that people have that mindset because it’s very stereotypical among people with my profession. But I’m not like that at all. Half the time I don’t even look at myself in the mirror, I just put a hat on and go. I think the modelling world has that effect on you, because after 10 hours of shooting, the last person you want to see is yourself. I would not say that I’m haughty, and I hope, and have also heard that I’m not that kind of person.

At the forefront of everything, I hold so much respect for everybody and that’s something that was instilled in me at a very young age by my parents. I think that’s the reason I don’t get that much hate online. I also try to work proactively and create educational opportunities instead. 

For example, a couple of Youtube-videos ago I was going on a hack and my horse was wearing a double bridle. I knew that I was going to get a lot of comments about it and followers questioning it. So I started the video by carefully explaining the choice of bridle, and the comments remained calm. Sometimes you can turn that moment of hate into a moment of education, and we can all grow a little bit from it as well. “

Besides your Instagram and Youtube, you have also created an online equestrian network called “Horseworld TV” with Jesse Drent. Can you tell us more about the platform? 
“I’ve always found that in the equestrian world, there’s been such a lack and disconnect from media and entertainment to the horse world inside the sport. When you were watching tv, everything was very old and out-dated. I didn’t find it interesting and entertaining at all.

Me and Jesse also felt like there was a huge disconnect between everyday-riders and top-riders. So the theory behind HorseworldTV was and is to connect the everyday-rider to the top-rider in an entertaining way and through different kinds of media. And I guess that’s what we’ve been doing since last november. “

You and Jesse seem to have such incredible chemistry together. When living, working and travelling together, how would you say you complement each other?
“Me and Jesse balance each other well. I think firstly we have very different views on the world, which is nice because if we were too much alike, it wouldn’t work. We both like to laugh a lot as well. We always like to make light of things, and we don’t take each other too seriously. We’re always in it just to have a good time. None of us worry much about what other people will think. Of course we’re respectful, but we just wanna have fun and enjoy it. We always feel so blessed to be given this opportunity, so we are just kind of living life to the fullest. “

The big move from Australia

You’ve stayed in the Netherlands for a couple of years now. What made you move to the Netherlands in particular?
“That’s a good question. At first, I did not know where I wanted to go but I knew that I wanted the country to be a prominent horse nation and I did not want to move to another island. I didn’t want to feel like I can’t go with my car across borders if I wanted to, which didn’t leave me with so many options. 

I knew some people here in the Netherlands, it’s a big horse country, everyone speaks nglish, it’s super central in Europe and only a 45 minute plane-ride to the UK. I found a lot of things that brought me here, it’s a beautiful country.”

Moving to a completely new country is extremely brave! It’s also really brave to jump into a new industry and start modeling. You seem to do a lot of brave things! Have you always been a person who says yes to opportunities and adventure?
“I feel like a lot of it is being naive actually, and I think that’s such a blessing because a lot of the time I don’t really consider the full extent of what I’m signing up for. I don’t run though all the worst things that could happen, I’m just like “That sounds exciting, let’s do it!”. Kind of like the mentality of a five-year-old, right? And it’s good, because if you think of the struggles, it does stop you from doing a lot of things. “

“I found that most of the time when I just said yes to opportunities, it has always paid off. “

Maya Delorez x Matt Harnacke

What was it about Maya Delorez that caught your interest? 
“First of all, I’ve known your brand ambassador Carl Hedin for a while and when he launched his collection together with you I wanted to support him. So I got the products, tried them on and was like “Wow! I actually really really like them!”. I usually try products for about two weeks before I recommend anything, and during that time I found myself reaching for the products when I opened my closet. It was clothes that I really wanted to wear and something I genuinely wanted to share – and when I did I also got great feedback from my followers. So to start a collaboration and partnership together with Maya Delorez came very naturally to me.”

Do you have any fave products?
“The product I tend to grab  the most are the black breeches with the green lines on the pockets called Felix Sport Breeches. I wear them all the time, I really love those breeches. And then I love the Tech Polos! I have all 3 of them; Ville, Freddie and Rodger. I love the fit, the material and the quality. They are my top picks right now. And the socks of course! Haha, they are also very good!”

You have, in just a few years, built so much around you with your company, horses, social media and everything. Looking ahead, where do you envision everything going? 
“That’s a good question. I’m really glad I don’t have the answer to that because even when I grew up, if I had known where I wanted to go I wouldn’t be where I am today. So I’m excited that I don’t have a well-thought-out plan or strategy for the future and I hope I will continue not to know. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future has in store!”


5 quick questions

Runway or dressage competition? 
That’s so difficult! Nothing can ever compare to the feeling of walking down a runway – but then horses are my passion! If I had to put it down to the one moment, then it’s runway. Because you have done all these castings and shows, it’s all these people waiting on the other end and there’s media and celebrities everywhere. It’s only about 45 seconds of walking, but there’s so much energy! And the feeling you get when you’re walking is insane. So my answer would be runway, based on the feeling you get whilst doing it. 

Fave social media plattform?
Instagram

Gelding, stallion or mare?
Stallion – for sure!

Favorite emoji?
Oh, I have a few.. I like the strong arm (💪🏻) and I like the face that’s like smiling, but there’s a tear (🥲)

Australia or Europe?
Europe

What’s your signature dish?
That I cook?! Then nothing.. I HATE cooking! Every morning though, I make myself fried eggs on toast with a layer of truffle-mayonnaise underneath. It sounds weird, but it’s really good I promise!

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